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R-Calf is Grassroots, NCBA Is Not

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Well-known member
Feb 13, 2005
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I put in my shift working at the Clay County Cattleman's Branding Iron restaurant at the County Fair. The restaurant has been a tremendous beef promotional success. A banner displayed congratulates the Clay County Cattlemen as having the highest membership for the second year running of any county in Iowa. The feat is the result of community support for cattlemen, the result of a large associate membership. It's also the result of aggressive individuals with a "can do" attitude.

It struck me while reflecting on the grassroots success of the county organization how different it was from either the Iowa Cattlemen's Association (ICA) or National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) state or national affiliates. I should be able to cite come recent successes accomplished by the NCBA. But I can't. On the issues of the day, the momentum in the beef industry appears strongest at the grassroots, coming to a dead stop by the time you reach the height of the national organization. Beef Today editor, Steve Cornett, put his finger on the difference describing his experience with NCBA and rival organization, R-CALF, saying, "It hit me about halfway through a presentation at the NCBA. Some speaker said, 'We are losing the grass-roots battle in Washington.' What he meant was NCBA's membership doesn't react to issues with the same enthusiasm you find in folks with an R-Calf bent. And it occurs to me that that probably won't change. A call for membership action from R-CALF creates phone deadlock in Washington. When NCBA puts out a request for its members to call Congress on an issue, the members go on about their own business. They presume NCBA will see to it.

R-CALF members are passionate over what they believe are producer interests. NCBA members tend to think of themselves as "the industry." They represent "the industry" rather than producer interests. Producers want an organization that, come hell or high water, represents them while "the industry," typically packers, have enormous resources to take care of themselves. NCBA has been struggling with membership while R-CALF membership has been surging. Dollars to support the organization above and beyond dues have poured into R-CALF coffers virtually unsolicited, while the NCBA typically "begs" corporate benefactors for cash.

Here is an example of the difference in perception and reality between the ICA and grassroots cattlemen that are joining R-CALF. President Bill Scheitler in his ICA column wrote, "One huge accomplishment that I will never forget, and am continually reminded of, is how NCBA was instrumental in getting the change so that we could "LDP" our corn silage and corn put up for cattle feed. This had to be done on a national level. It benefited every cattleman in this state." When I had one of the Clay County cattlemen, who I knew was responsible for much of the work gaining silage LDPs, read that paragraph his face literally turned red and it wasn't from embarrassment. He was livid.

Scheitler doesn't know how LDPs for silage were gained for cattlemen. He may think he does but his version is a total fabrication of what actually occurred. Three people can be given credit. Two were rank and file Clay County cattlemen and the third was Carol Balvanz, the ICA's public policy Vice President. They took on the mission of convincing the USDA that corn silage and corn put up for cattle feed should be included in the loan deficiency program. It was an unfair disadvantage for cattlemen to lose government support for the value of corn they produce, penalizing them if they turned it into silage or high moisture feed.

Rather than support the idea, NCBA lobbyist, Chandler Keys told the Clay County cattlemen, "We will oppose you on this." He said NCBA policy was against including the beef industry in federal farm programs. This was in spite of the fact that swine and poultry producers could receive LPD payments for their feed-corn stocks but beef producers couldn't because their corn was processed (silage and earlage) before it left the field. Eventually the two passionate cattlemen convinced the NCBA "to get out of the way" as they put it. Countless hours were spent on the telephone talking to elected officials, finding strong allies in Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Daschle. Congressmen Tom Latham helped. The organizations that deserved the credit for gaining LDPs for silage, getting it done were state cattlemen's/dairy organizations and the Independent Bankers Association.

The NCBA never performed what either cattleman described as a leadership role. In fact, quite the opposite. LDPs on silage are currently worth over 40 cents/bushel. In order to sing the praises of the NCBA, one shouldn't have to make things up such as fictitious credit for gaining silage LDPs.

It was grassroots Clay County Cattlemen, not the NCBA who got behind LDP rights for silage and made it happen. It's always been the grassroots that's driven the cattle industry and its organization. The NCBA has lost those roots on marketing issues. The ICA has come to worry more about what the NCBA thinks than what Iowa Cattlemen think. That's where they are going wrong.

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